Rogues can buy respectability – or a semblance of it.
The cigarette industry provides a textbook example of how to exert pressure by stealth. Knowing that its public image is toxic, it funds various front groups to cajole the powerful.
The European Policy Centre is one such group. It was established in the 1990s by the late Stanley Crossick, a consultant for British American Tobacco. Before long, Crossick’s outfit was styling itself as one of the leading “think tanks” in Brussels, deftly pushing an agenda favored by big corporations.
Political and business representatives continue to mingle at its invitation-only events today; the cigarette industry remains an important, if discreet, sponsor.
Has the European Policy Centre now offered its services to the Israel lobby?
Headed by hawk
One of the contributors to the center’s budget is the European Leadership Network. That insipidly-named organization is dedicated to strengthening relations between Israel and the European Union.
Despite claiming to support the “pursuit of peace,” the European Leadership Network is headed by a hawk. Larry Hochberg, the hawk in question, has previously chaired Friends of the IDF, which finances recruits to the Israeli military.
I asked Fabien Zuleeg, chief executive of the European Policy Centre, why he accepts funding from a pro-Israel group. He argued that the funding from the European Leaders Network “in no way affects” his center’s “independence.”
Gauging whether the European Policy Centre enjoys any real autonomy is hampered by the secretive activities with which it is involved.
“Experts” from the center have been participating in a “strategic dialogue” that the European Leadership Network initiated in 2010. Each session of the “dialogue” takes place in a “private and secluded venue,” according to its official website.
One member of the team behind this “dialogue” is Michael Herzog, a retired brigadier-general in the Israeli military. Herzog has been indicted under Spain’s “universal jurisdiction” law in relation to a 2002 bombing attack on a residential area of Gaza.
The scarce information available about the “dialogue” does not suggest that it encourages intellectual freedom. A paper based on the “dialogue” and published by the European Policy Centre contends that Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, “must strike a difficult yet indispensable balance” between calls made by parties in his ruling coalition and those of his “diplomatic partners” abroad.
Those are weasel words. The Netanyahu-led government includes ministers who have urged that most of the West Bank be annexed, that Palestinians living inside Israel be expelled and that Gaza’s women be exterminated.
The “balance” advocated by the European Policy Centre would mean appeasing such gangsters.
The European Leadership Network is less than transparent about its activities, too.
According to details supplied to a register for lobbyists who interact with the EU institutions, the “network” only began “regular activities” in Brussels during 2016.
Yet documents filed with the US authorities state that the network’s Brussels office had been receiving grants from across the Atlantic for a number of years before then. In 2014, for example, it was given almost $500,000 by a “friends of” group registered in Larry Hochberg’s name, using an address in Illinois.
That “friends of” group was led at one stage by Mark Moskowitz, another pro-Israel lobbyist. Both Hochberg and Moskowitz have formerly worked for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, widely regarded as one of Washington’s most influential pressure groups.
Moskowitz is now a vice-president for “global philanthropy” with the Jewish Agency, a body working directly for the Israeli state.
The “friends of” group was established in 2011, after it was given almost $4 million in assets from StandWithUs, a lobby outfit partly financed by Israel and with close ties to the Islamophobia industry in North America.
Roz Rothstein, the CEO of StandWithUs, has also helped run the European Leadership Network, according to documents filed with the Belgian authorities.
I asked Ines von Behr, Brussels director with the European Leadership Network, if her office receives funding from the Israeli government. I also enquired if the “network” coordinates its activities with the pro-Israel lobby in Washington. “We are not replying to any media questions at this point,” von Behr told me.
Her reticence is not surprising. The European Leadership Network appears to be a fan club for Israeli aggression masquerading as a forum for debate and analysis.
Using sneaky tactics, it is trying to confer respectability on a rogue state.
•First published by The Electronic Intifada, 11 May 2017.